This weekend, I had some friends over for dinner – that’s not the failure part.. Over Jamaican black beans on brown rice with tropical fruit chutney, roasted green beans and carrot flan cake (not on the diet), we had a wonderful time! The atmosphere was laid back and friendly. Since not all of the guests were acquainted, it was an easy environment to get to know each other. Dinner is a wonderful way to sit back, relax and let people tell you about themselves.
A friend of mine was once struggling with a rather profound failure in his life. The failure was the culmination of a series of bad decisions; but, my friend could not pinpoint the first one. He mentioned this struggle to his Rabbi who advised him to “have dinner with his failures” in order to discover that pivotal moment. I like that idea.
I have often joked that I would make a horrible spy. I don’t ask enough questions. I don’t probe people. Probing makes people defensive and they hide things. I believe that by letting people tell their own stories in their own time, I get a much more accurate picture of them than I would if I probed. I believe the same thing is true within my own mind. Over the years I’ve seen a number of therapists to puzzle through whatever issues were bothering me at the time. Therapy is putting my own self on the spot. It’s probing myself and, just like most people do when someone probes at them, my own mind can become defensive and lock me out. Once, my mind really pushed back to my probing when a therapy session resulted in a full-blown anxiety attack. By having dinner with my failures rather than probing at them, I don’t trigger that kind of defensive response. I slow down. I listen. And, often, I find that first bad decision.
I hadn’t gone from a non-smoking smoker back to a 2-pack a day smoker overnight. It had happened gradually – so gradually, that I had a hard time discovering where I went wrong. By having dinner with that smoking cessation failure, I pinpointed the initial lie I had told myself – my Gateway Lie of “I can have just one.” That lie started me down the road to being a smoker again. In a similar way, my dietary failure didn’t happen at that meal where I had Baconator, large fries, chocolate Frosty and a Diet Coke. I didn’t go from months of healthful choices directly to this greasy faced, carnivorous orgy. My diet gradually deteriorated. Like I had done with smoking cessation, I had to pinpoint My Gateway Lie. That lie was that I could eat processed foods and sugary treats as long as they were vegetarian and marketed as “healthy.”
During The Great Reduction, I shunned nearly all prepared and processed foods. I was still eating meat; but, I was watching my caloric intake closely. I dropped weight. Quickly. Eventually, I stopped eating meat simply because I could eat more volume in the form of plant foods. Then I learned about many of the health benefits of eating a whole-foods, planted-based diet. Eating all of that fresh food took a huge amount of time. It took planning. It took preparation. It took effort. Snagging an Amy’s vegetarian entree out of the freezer section and throwing it into the microwave for three minutes was WAY faster. Plus, it was vegan; so, it wasn’t that bad. And I could tell myself that I was just going to do that for this meal. I’d be back to eating healthfully next meal. On a PMSy day, I wanted ice cream. Frozen cashew milk is vegan and has fewer calories than ice cream. So I rationalized that choice, as well. Both of those prepared foods are better choices than some alternatives; however, they are not better choices than fresh, whole foods. And for me, they were the Gateway Lie – if it says “healthy” or “vegan” on the package, it is nearly as good as the fresh foods I had been preparing for myself.
Yeah, well, Sour Patch Kids and Oreos are vegan, too. I Oreoed myself right back into my fat pants….and beyond.
Prepared foods, regardless of whether they are marketed as “healthy,” have added sugar, fat, and/or sodium to improve either their flavor or their shelf life or both. For instance, a cup of Amy’s Hearty Rustic Italian Vegetable Soup has 680mg of salt – that’s nearly 1/3 of the Mayo Clinic identified upper limit RDA of 2300mg. I made a cauldron of vegetable soup last week, adding no salt, using lots of herbs instead; so, mine contained only the sodium naturally occurring in the vegetables. Amy’s is a lot faster and, while it isn’t just awful for you, mine is better.
Mine leads to success, which makes a much better dinner partner than failure.